WASHINGTON — As oral arguments took place in a federal courtroom on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., made another plea for the Senate to approve the Senate Legal Counsel’s involvement in the lawsuit.
Twenty state attorneys general, including West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey, are suing the federal government, arguing the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because of last year’s repeal of the individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance or face a penalty.
The repeal of the individual mandate was part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
According to Manchin, around 800,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions would be at risk of losing insurance coverage if the lawsuit succeeds.
“People with cancer, heart disease, asthma, diabetes or pregnant women are at risk of financial and physical duress. Today, we have a chance to right this wrong,” Manchin said.
Manchin pointed out affected West Virginians would either be unable to afford insurance coverage or see rates increase or capped.
“What it basically says is insurance companies will be allowed to determine if you’re too sick and too costly for them, and if they can’t make enough profit or see no end in sight, they’ll just deny you,” he said.
The senator asked his colleagues to reconsider a resolution he introduced in July to have the Senate Legal Counsel represent the Senate in the lawsuit. The U.S. Department of Justice denied defending the law in court.
The Senate Democratic Caucus — consisting of 47 Democrats and two independents — supported the resolution when first introduced.
Senate Republicans introduced legislation in late August to secure protections for pre-existing conditions if the lawsuit succeeds.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and nine other Republicans originally cosponsored the bill. Thirteen senators now support the legislation, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
“There are strong opinions on both sides when it comes to how we should overhaul our nation’s broken health care system, but the one thing we can all agree on is that we should protect health care for Americans with pre-existing conditions and ensure they have access to good coverage,” Tillis said in an Aug. 24 press release.
“This legislation is a commonsense solution that guarantees Americans with preexisting conditions will have health care coverage, regardless of how our judicial system rules on the future of ‘Obamacare.'”
Manchin cited Tillis’ comments on the Senate floor.
“This is a commonsense solution. We want to fix it together,” he said. “Let’s ask our attorney generals to stop this senseless lawsuit. Withdraw.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., blocked a vote Wednesday, the second time such action has been taken on a vote on the resolution. Inhofe said the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision on the health care law specifically considered the individual mandate, which is the subject of the lawsuit
“Last year, we eliminated the individual mandate in our tax cut, so the constitutionality needs to be revisited, which is what these states are doing,” Inhofe said. “It would be inappropriate for the Senate to intervene in this case.”
Manchin said if the intent of the lawsuit is to revisit the federal health care law, a possible solution already exists.
A bipartisan group of senators approved a legislative proposal last October that includes funding cost-sharing subsidies and providing states more regulatory flexibility.
“One thing we all agreed on was people with pre-existing conditions should not be left in inhumane situations where they have nothing left to count on,” he said.
“If they pass this lawsuit, then it’s going to be at the hand and mercy of insurance companies to say, picking and choosing life and death with so many thousands of people, millions of people,” Manchin added.
The issue of maintaining protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions is also a factor regarding Manchin’s upcoming vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court; Manchin previously said the Supreme Court “may ultimately decide” the federal health care law’s fate.
According to the Associated Press, Manchin joined Wednesday’s confirmation hearing of Kavanaugh as a member of the audience.